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The truth about 'Communigate' and the New England Patriots

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Fans of the NFL have labeled the New England Patriots cheaters, despite of what they, and their fans, say. Why this is part of a bigger picture with scandal after scandal coming from Foxborough.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Zero. The number of games it took the Patriots to resume cheating. It had marginal effect on the game and the Pats would've won anyway, which actually makes it all the more of a Patriots sort of thing to do. Unnecessary cheating is the Patriots' favorite kind. It's an intentional slap in the face to Roger Goodell, saying "yes, we're cheaters, and no, there's nothing you can do about it." Pats fans will blame this on everything from the league to the weather, saying it wouldn't even be brought up if it were anyone else's stadium. They'll complain that this only brought up because they're under the microscope... and they're right.

When you're repeatedly caught cheating, part of the punishment is that everything you do from then on is suspect, and Judge Berman can't take that away. Other teams are able to avoid the microscope by not cheating. Patriots fans, flush with hubris after the reversal of Tom Brady's suspension, and frustrated with new accusations of cheating are out in force mocking anyone and everyone who questions the legality of the team's actions as mere whining and complaining. What they don't seem to realize is that they, like the Patriots organization, are only making it worse. The truth about "Communigate" the more they complain about it or mock it, the longer it is going to happen.

Cheating at football in some ways is like cheating in a relationship, in that involves a broken trust. Football fans around the country celebrated the Patriots dynasty of the turn of the century because they trusted that the team was winning just by being better. Then came Spygate. Many football fans were disenfranchised, no longer attracted to or impressed by the Patriots franchise. Other fans around the country forgave and continued to adore football's darlings. Then came Deflategate, a controversy that was way bigger than it deserved as an isolated incident, only it wasn't an isolated incident. Football fans turned on the Patriots en masse. Why? Because indiscretions are magnified by past indiscretions. The more you put to the test people's ability to believe the best, the more likely you are to push them to believe the worst.

Think about what happens in a relationship where one partner cheats. In a relationship, you cheat and you probably lose the relationship. You will at the least lose much of the trust and love in the relationship until you rebuild that trust by going above and beyond to demonstrate your commitment to faithfulness in the future. You need to be more attentive to your spouse than ever before, with thoughtful cards and candlelight dinners. You become a hand-shaker rather than a hugger when it comes to friends of the opposite sex, avoiding even the appearance of the possibility of indiscretion. Or, you can go on hugging, maintain relationships with former girlfriends, refusing to allow your wife access to your phone or facebook account. Then say when your wife gets suspicious that she is just a whiner and a complainer who envies your outgoing nature, and see how long it takes for the divorce to take place.

The Patriots were caught cheating in Spygate. They could've responded by taking significant disciplinary action of their own in addition to the league's, by making an effort to go above and beyond good sportsmanship to demonstrate their commitment to fair play, to say they are a team that desires to be a model franchise not just of winning but of the ethical practices without which winning is meaningless. They could've apologized, mended their ways and gone out of their way to become the most pleasant stadium to play in for visitors in football, to set the standard for sportsmanship and fair play. Instead, they made excuses, downplayed the significance of their actions and continued flirting with illegality. They've suffered the consequences in their relationship with the football audience because they didn't convince the fans that they were sorry; in fact, they didn't even try to.

Patriots fans frustrated with ongoing drama need to realize that if Belichick can go without cheating for a few years and build a reputation of good sportsmanship the microscope will start to go away. Until then, well, this is why you shouldn't cheat.

Patriots fans have come to think of their team as the envy of the nation, hated because of their success. The reality is that the nation wants desperately to love the Patriots. The commentary during the game Thursday night was overwhelmingly positive toward Brady, but it's hard to love a team or player who doesn't love you back, and the Patriots' contempt for the league and the other teams in the league is palpable. The more they mock the fair scrutiny they face because of their actions, the more they will be scrutinized. That's why the Patriots have lost the love of football fans outside of New England, and that's why they will keep facing suspicion whenever anything that smells like cheating comes up again. If Patriots fans can say "yes, we cheated before, and we understand your suspicion but we're not cheating anymore" that will go a long way to restoring the relationship with football fans in general, but the truth about "Communigate" is that whether the Patriots are cheating, or not, they seem intent on making everyone believe they're cheating.